Theresa Reynolds portrait as a young women in the RCAF

Local women veterans and “quiet heroes” honoured at Remembrance Day Ceremonies

Remembrance Day services were held once again the Valley last week with a focus on local veterans.

Remembrance Day services were held once again the Valley last week with a focus on local veterans. SAMS school honoured our surviving local veterans and their spouses Bob and June Draney, Theresa Reynolds, Floyd and Inez Mecham, Ed and Bridget Falch, and Clarence Hall at a luncheon on Tuesday, November 10.

Regular services were held at the Cenotaph in Hagensborg with Dr. Alistair Anderson leading the march on the bagpipes, followed by veterans Clarence Hall and Ed Falk, the local Rangers and the RCMP.

Legion President Ron Richards, providing background on the local veterans, explained that Bob Draney and Floyd Mecham both served overseas and do not attend the services, likely not wanting to recall the horrors they experienced. Clarence Hall was an American POW in a German Concentration Camp, and Ed Falk was a very young man in the Danish Resistance – ending up in a camp as well at the age of 14, while Theresa Reynolds was involved with communications in the Royal Canadian Air Force.

“We have received many good comments regarding the ceremony this year. We have been getting more people turn out every year,” said Richards. “It seems that more and more people are concerned with what is going on and are appreciative of what happened in the past.”

Outside at the Cenotaph Trenton Saugstad played “Last Post” as community members observed a minute of silence. Services continued inside the Augsburg Church facilitated by the local Pastor.

Among the veterans seated near the front was 92-year old Theresa Reynolds, mother of long-time Bella Coola resident Diane Skelly. Notably the only surviving female veteran in the Valley, Reynolds was twice a member of the Royal Canadian Air Force, first joining in her early 20s.

“She was initially a hospital cook in the Royal Canadian Air Force in WWII,” said Skelly. “She was stationed in Alberta, Manitoba, and Ontario.”

Skelly said that while her mother loved her time in the forces, she didn’t talk about it much. She joined a second time, during the Cold War, and was trained in wireless radio operations in Ontario.

“She was fluent in Morse code and travelled to Whitehorse to listen in on the Russians,” said Skelly. “She absolutely loved her time in the north, and says she can still remember the sights and sounds of the northern lights.”

Reynolds was the recipient of several medals and badges: the Canadian Volunteer Service Medal, the War Medal, and War Service Badges.

During the Second World War, the role of women in Canadian society changed dramatically. Canada needed women to pitch in and support the war effort from their homes, to work at jobs that were traditionally held by men, and to serve in the military. Canadian women enthusiastically embraced their new roles and responsibilities and helped contribute to the success of Canada’s Victory Campaign.

Out of a total Canadian population of 11 million people, only about 600,000 Canadian women held permanent jobs when the war started. During the war, their numbers doubled to 1,200,000.

At the peak of wartime employment in 1943-44, 439,000 women worked in the service sector, 373,000 in manufacturing and 4,000 in construction.

With their sons overseas, many farm women had to take on extra work. One Alberta mother of nine sons – all of them either in the army or away working in factories – drove the tractor, plowed the fields, put up hay, and hauled grain to elevators, along with tending her garden, raising chickens, pigs and turkeys, and canning hundreds of jars of fruits and vegetables. Women who worked with lumberjacks and loggers during the war were called “lumberjills.”

Many Canadian women wanted to play an active role in the war and lobbied the government to form military organizations for women. In 1941-42, the military was forever changed as it created its own women’s forces. Women were now able, for the first time in our history, to serve Canada in uniform. More than 50,000 women served in the armed forces during the Second World War.

4,480 Nursing Sisters (as Canadian military nurses were known) served in the war – 3,656 in the Canadian Women’s Army Corps, 481 in the Women’s Division of the Royal Canadian Air Force and 343 in the Women’s Royal Canadian Naval Service. Many of these women found themselves within range of enemy guns and some lost their lives.

The day also included a special tribute to Ron Mayo, a long-time resident of the Valley at a WWII veteran of the British Army. When he passed in 2012, Ron left a legacy to the local Legion in his will. The funds were used to purchase a flagpole that was erected at the Cenotaph.

“Ron Mayo was known to most of us as a gentle man who lived at Stuie since moving to the Valley in 1986.  He was an exceptionally skilled photographer and videographer of wildlife, and as a WWII British Veteran was a welcome presence with us here on Remembrance Day. Ron served in the British infantry, and then as a surveyor and cartographer. What is less known is that he received special permission to carry a camera in the field and recorded many images of the reality of wartime,” said Mayo’s friend John Morton. “Today it is my honour on behalf of Legion Branch 262 and the Bella Coola community to dedicate this flagpole to the memory of our friend, Ron Mayo – one of the “quiet heroes.””